Wednesday, May 29, 2013

From Plumerias to Pastries

Central California's Spring and Summer.
Good croissants, plumerias, rugged ranchwear, and flip flops (I call "slippers"). Where's all this coming from? It's all me in one way or another. I am a California girl, born in Hawaii, raised on California's Central Coast, and never more than 10 minutes from the beach. I grew up going to surf contests and vacationing in Lake Tahoe. 

So, when my husband was transferred to Bergen County in New Jersey, nothing I'd been through prepared me for the day we landed in the Garden State. The name fits in the lush green summer months, but we landed there on Feb. 1st, and the landscape was heavy with a thick blanket of snow.

I felt like Lucy from The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, having just emerged from a fire-warmed room into snowy Narnia. It was beautiful and colder than I'd ever experienced. My first purchase in my new home was a parka. I had never owned one or needed one.  

As all you Jersey girls out there know, your state is beautiful, and has tons of great qualities. But as it turns out, New Jersey and I would never be friends. We didn't get along. Sure, there were some happy times, but we argued about weather, we argued about prices, culture, leaf shoveling, traffic, and distance to my family. We just weren't on a first name basis, and I couldn't wait to move back to the West Coast. 

SoHo's a little different than California and Hawaii.

One of the absolute best parts of my time in New Jersey was the once-in-a-lifetime chance to attend one of the most fabulous cooking schools in the world. I enrolled as a part-time student at the French Culinary Institute (FCI) as it was called then.  I put on my brave girl boots and drove myself to Manhattan's SoHo neighborhood every Saturday morning for six months to learn the secrets of French pastry.

I took classes from some famous chefs, including Chocolateer Jacques Torres, and cake visionary Ron Ben -Israel. One highlight was taking a class from Kate Zuckerman who was the pastry chef at the James Beard award-winning Chanterelle, one of the most amazing fancy restaurants in New York.

I made cakes, pate a choux, tarts, and creme brulee, and I even learned how to make croissants from scratch, with enough butter to open a butter store! That's why they taste so good, and why I won't touch the Costco croissants. I'm a self-proclaimed croissant snob.

FCI and the whole New York City experience was definitely a highlight of my time spent in New Jersey. I gained pastry skills I never knew I wanted, not to mention the confidence I gained by spending time driving in and around Manhattan by myself.

North Shore of Kauai was home til I was 8.
But my mad city driving skills were figuratively and literally thousands of miles away where I started: the sleepy little island of Kauai. But more about that later...